Stop Sexual Abuse by Supporting Victims
Support Victims who Speak Out Against Abuse
By Albro L. Lundy III
This month over 90 women including some of the most famous US Olympic gymnasts filed a $1 billion suit against the FBI for ignoring claims of sexual assault, mishandling the victims’ claims and then covering up their neglect.
This highlights one of the most pernicious problems in stopping sexual abuse – the lack of support victims face when they finally come forward to confront an abuser.
Victims of sexual abuse and harassment need two kinds of support: first, from the people who victims have chosen to reveal what has happened; and second, from the institutions that are set up to monitor and protect people from sexual predators.
It takes an immense amount of courage for a person who has been sexually assaulted to speak out against their accuser and to go to authorities for help. In most cases, the abuser has some level of authority or power over the person who has been abused. This authority creates a situation where the abuser feels they have the power to do inappropriate things to another person, and when the victim often feels threatened or powerless to speak out or stop the harassment or abuse.
In many of the major abuse cases, other people knew abuse was going on. In the entertainment industry, the practices of Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey were well-known. In one of our cases against a popular local doctor who was a predator, when the story hit the news, multiple friends called me to say that they had also been abused by this doctor or were aware of this situation. One friend who was a nurse told me, “I have heard about this guy for years.”
Think of all the abuse that could have been prevented.
Think of the monsters that need to be caged, like the one preying on all those innocent little girls in gymnastics. If there is anything that should get your blood boiling, it is the fact that these monsters are roaming the streets and the fact that the people that could have caged them didn’t. Cages take a lot of forms, from jail cells to simply eliminating these monsters’ access by taking away their license to practice medicine, their teaching credential, or their collar. That is the first step and the most important one.
If you are being sexually abused or harassed, speak out
Find safe people to support you. Find a personal friend or family member to be your ally. Then go to someone in the leadership of your organization if possible, or go to an attorney or law enforcement if you cannot find help within. Here is a link and number of the National Sexual Abuse Hotline: 800-656-HOPE (4673) for confidential advice as well as the National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
What to do if a victim speaks out to you
Offer support to the victim. Listen to them. Believe them. Help them go to the authorities in the situation and be taken seriously. If you are in leadership or management, open an investigation in your organization if you hear that sexual harassment or abuse is occurring.
If you see abuse, speak out
If you are in an organization, speak to management about inappropriate behavior that you witness. It deserves repeating that most of the time, other people are aware of abuse or harassment going on in their organization. Don’t be a silent watcher.
Help victims go to the authorities
Ask the victim what help they would like. Do they want someone to help them contact the police? Sit with them while they make a difficult phone call? Go with them to report abuse and harassment to management? Show up in a courtroom while they give testimony? Your presence to someone in this process is an invaluable gift.
You might ask what difference does it make telling the authorities?
Look at these poor gymnasts who went to the FBI, the major American authority. The wheels of justice didn’t turn for two solid years when they knew that a monster dressed in the guise of the doctor was out there doing unspeakable, horrific things to these little girls and young women in the name of medicine.
The simple answer is to do what you can, and trust that it will make a difference. The gymnasts didn’t get the help they needed the first time from the FBI; they are now using the legal system to hold the FBI accountable.
Due process is important
It is important for the victim and the accused that due process is allowed to occur. There are times that people are falsely accused. An open and fair investigation will sort this out. Help get the investigation started.
It might seem like everybody else is hiding their head in the sand. I always harken back to the well-known story of the little boy throwing starfish into the sea. The tide had gone out and washed up hundreds of starfish on the beach. The starfish were drying up and dying. The little boy was picking up one starfish after another and throwing them back into the water. An older man came up and said to the little boy, “What are you doing? You can’t save all these starfish.” The little boy looked up at him, then looked down at the starfish in his hand, and said, “Maybe not, but I can save this one,” as he cocked his arm back and threw it into the water as hard as he could.
That’s a lesson we all need to learn. We can all help save someone simply by speaking up and supporting those who are brave enough to speak out.
The Olympic Gymnasts and all of the other gymnasts who are part of the FBI suit all deserve gold medals – for bravery.
Please Note: This document does not constitute legal advice. Please consult an attorney for legal advice on what to do in a particular situation.